It can be hard to tell whether President Donald Trump is going to follow up words with action, but if he does when it comes to marijuana it would go a long way toward relieving what is essentially an absurd situation.
Late last week the president said he’d support a bipartisan move that would ease the ban on marijuana at the federal level. That pot is illegal, as illegal as cocaine or LSD or heroin, in the eyes of the federal government is at odds, to put it mildly, with the movement of somewhere around half of the states in the United States that have in some way or another legalized weed.
So there’s the absurdity: Pot is both legal and not legal. Maybe it depends on where you are. Maybe it doesn’t.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not a fan of legalized pot. Early this year he announced he was ending protections established in the Obama years for states where marijuana is considered legal. This created a tizzy in states that were moving forward with recreational legalization and businesses that were moving forward along with them. But a half a year down that road, Sessions’ efforts against legalized markets have proved futile. You could say a good idea is hard to stop.
Now a bipartisan bill would keep federal interference at bay and let states figure out what to do about marijuana without the specter of federal interference.
The bill was introduced by senators Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican. It was Gardner Trump was referring to when he signaled a potential change: “I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he’s doing,” said Trump. “We’re looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
Marijuana is a fledgling business, the growth of which is being stunted by the mixed messages of law and law enforcement. As the AP reported, the bill would change the federal definition of marijuana to exclude industrial hemp, pot’s non-intoxicating sidekick. Farmers can make more than $100,000 an acre growing hemp plants that can produce CBD oil.
Trump’s position on marijuana has been mixed, and those who advise against taking his comments supporting the bill seriously include Kevin A. Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. “I don’t think anyone would make a bet on the long-term validity of an offhand remark by the president that he ‘probably’ would support something,” Sabet told the AP.
So, you don’t know. But as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Sessions is focusing on more dangerous drugs: “The threats that we’re focused on in the Department of Justice are fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, prescription abuses in large amount (that) lead to addiction and death. Those are clearly where we’re moving.”
Even though Sessions has appeared to have backed off, and even though the president appears to be supporting it, it’s not a done deal. Whether you are for or against legalizing marijuana, the bill is worth supporting because it alleviates this discord between the federal government and states’ rights, leaving the responsibility to the states. That was Trump’s initial campaign position about it.
Connecticut is among the states that has decriminalized marijuana and legalized it for medical use, which at the moment is a sensible status and at least for the moment shows restraint against the impulse to cash in on legalization.
There’s no rush. Connecticut now has the example of its neighbor to the north, and can see how legalization moves forward in Massachusetts.
Whether marijuana should become part of the Land of Steady Habits remains to be seen, but it should be up to the state to make that decision without fears of federal repercussions.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.